By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's top health adviser on Monday called for an end to partisan bickering over Obamacare, saying the public and businesses are sending a clear message to Washington that it is time to move on with implementing the law.
"The Affordable Care Act is clearly working," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told a university audience in remarks that unveiled a new administration message about the successes of the healthcare reform law just as the midterm election campaign debate about its future intensifies.
"What I've been hearing over and over ... (is) enough already with the back and forth. We just want to move forward," she said in her first major public address.
"We're not here to fight last year's battles," Burwell added. "The Affordable Care Act is not about making a point. It's about making progress."
Burwell took over the health secretary job from Kathleen Sebelius in June as part of an administration effort to begin a new chapter for healthcare reform after four years of political and legal challenges from conservative foes.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the aim is to stress the affordability of Obamacare insurance, new access to medical services for the uninsured and the quality of coverage as the administration prepares for a new three-month open enrollment period beginning on Nov. 15.
The administration will also underscore studies and polling that suggest Obama's signature domestic policy achievement has significantly reduced the number of uninsured Americans by subsidizing the cost of private insurance for lower-income people and expanding the Medicaid program for the poor in more than half of the 50 U.S. states.
But a public outreach campaign, already under way to drive enrollment for 2015 coverage, will also coincide with the Oct. 1 anniversary of the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, a date Republicans are likely to mark with blistering rhetoric as the fall campaign for the Nov. 4 election gets fully under way.
Obama's Affordable Care Act remains unpopular with large segments of the voting public. In Reuters/Ipsos polling of 384 people over the first five days of September, 51 percent of respondents said they disapproved of Obama’s handling of healthcare reform, while 39 percent said they approved and 10 percent said they did not know. The poll has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.
In early August, 57 percent of 1,599 respondents said they opposed the healthcare law, while 43 percent favored it. That poll had a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.
Analysts say the issue is not proving to be as big as expected with potential voters. But Republicans still hope public discontent will help them take control of the Senate and dismantle the legislation.
Healthcare reform will be front and center later this week during a Republican-led House of Representatives oversight hearing at which top HHS and Internal Revenue Service officials are slated to testify.
(Additional reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)